Embracing neurodiversity to build stronger work relationships

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Neurodiverse brain

Back in May, I spent a couple of days at the Simply IC conference in London, soaking in knowledge and sharing my own insights as I hosted a session on building better relationships with leaders. One of the sessions I attended was about neurodiversity in the workplace and after popping some notes about it on LinkedIn, it created quite the discussion and I knew we needed to delve further into the topic.

It was a session hosted by Aoife Casson and Tristan Lavender who I’m both hugely grateful to for taking the time to run the workshop to help educate us all in an area that is still so misunderstood.

In the UK, around 15% of people are neurodivergent*. That’s roughly one in every seven colleagues. But here’s the kicker – rates of neurodiverse individuals in full-time employment can be as low as 16%*. That’s like having a box of the brightest crayons, but only using a few shades.

Imagine instead a workplace where everyone’s unique talents are celebrated and given an environment to excel, no matter how their brains are wired.

Unpacking neurodiversity

First things first, let’s clear the air on what neurodiversity means. Just like we come in different shapes, sizes, and colours, our brains also have a dazzling array of wiring.

Think of it as a unique blend of talents, skills, and perspectives. From ADHD to autism, dyslexia to dyspraxia, these differences are variations in how our brains are wired and some are disabilities. 

Why should you care?

Now, you might be wondering, “Why should I bother with all this neurodiversity stuff?”

Embracing neurodiversity isn’t just about being nice; it’s about boosting productivity and innovation. When diverse minds come together, magic happens. Imagine brainstorming sessions where unconventional ideas flow freely or problem-solving teams that tackle challenges from every angle. That’s the power of neurodiversity.

Reading Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed back in 2021 was hugely insightful when looking at the power of diverse thinking, how beliefs are changed and why you can’t spend all your time with people who think like you. It was probably the book I recommended most in 2021 and 2022 and it’s one that I continue to refer to with clients today. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read a review I wrote here.

Top tips for fostering better work relationships

You’re probably thinking, “This all sounds great, but how do I actually make it work?”

Here are six tips I took away from the session and have shared further to help clients think about communication, leadership and relationships at work a little differently:

1. Educate and raise awareness: Ignorance is not bliss. Take the time to learn about different neurodiverse conditions. Celebrate diversity and give space for neurodivergent individuals to share their perspectives. Let’s uplift their voices, fostering a richer and more inclusive workplace culture.

2. Open communication: The foundation of any strong relationship is communication. Ask employees for their feedback. Encourage open dialogue where team members can share their needs, preferences, and challenges. This creates a supportive environment where everyone feels heard.

3. Flexibility is key: One size doesn’t fit all. Be flexible with work arrangements, schedules, and tasks. Some people might thrive in a quiet environment, while others excel with a bit of background noise. Treat people as individuals and get to know what they need.

4. Accommodations: Making small adjustments can make a big difference. Consider things like providing noise-cancelling headphones, offering written instructions along with verbal ones, or providing a designated quiet space. Make your content accessible for all types of brains, by creating materials that everyone can easily understand and engage with.

5. Focus on strengths: Everyone brings unique strengths to the table. Recognise and utilise these strengths to create a well-rounded team. A person who thinks differently can offer innovative solutions that others might not have considered.

6. Create a supportive culture: A culture of inclusivity benefits everyone. Foster an environment where all voices are valued and respected. It boosts team morale.

Trying and getting it wrong is better than not trying at all: Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and experiment with new approaches. Even if we stumble along the way, it’s through trial and error that we learn and grow. Progress comes from taking chances!

When we embrace neurodiversity, we’re not just ticking a box – we’re building stronger, more vibrant teams. And when teams thrive, businesses flourish. By championing change, we’re fostering an environment where every individual’s potential can shine brightly.

It’s an area I’m still learning about and will always make the time to attend events and meet with those who can help me help leaders and teams do things differently, and often a little better.

If employee experience is something you’re looking to tackle in your organisation, we offer consultancy as well as coaching and mentoring that can help to foster strong company culture and drive business objectives.  

* Local Government Association

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Join our community

Subscribe to join our community and we’ll be in touch with helpful advice and updates about how we can take your organisation from chaos to calm. Our community gets invited to a quarterly 90-minute Ask Me Anything online session with Jenni Field, as well as early access to events, discounts and research.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.